The importance of rest in the spiritual life

Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” ~ Mt 11:28

As a perennially worried little girl, I had more than occasional trouble getting to sleep. Hearing me as I tossed and turned in the darkness, my mother would come to my bedside and encourage me to turn my cares over to God. More often than not, this helped.

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Now older, slightly wiser, but still carrying a low-grade worry, I continue to revert to this advice almost daily. There is no doubt that the cares and concerns of our lives weigh us down, whether they are personal worries or more existential concerns about the state of our city, our nation, our world. In keeping us focused inward, on ourselves, they also prevent us from looking up and out to see the face of God. That is why, when we take time out to pray, one of our first actions is to let go of our daily burdens and focus our attention on our Lord.

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Sometimes it helps to conjure visual images of this divestment. Perhaps we can envision ourselves putting all the demons of worry into a box, shutting it firmly and placing it outside the door. Or sending those demons down a chute into a dumpster. Or emerging out of a clear cool pond, leaving the sludge of anxiety behind. As the Swedish diplomat (and UN Secretary General) Dag Hammarsjkold wrote of his fears and concerns in a lovely prayer, “I lay them now in your hands, Lord, I relax the grip in which I hold them and leave them to you.” The relief we experience when we “let go and let God,” to use a well-worn phrase from 12-step programs, may amaze us and will certainly bring comfort. 

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O God of peace and quiet, Help me to open my clenched fists and turn my closely held worries over to you, in full trust and faith. Amen.

For today’s readings, click here.

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